My Advice to a Relative Facing a Bipolar Disorder Diagnosis — And What This Diagnosis Really Means

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Trigger Warning: Mentions of intrusive thoughts that tell me to self-harm.

A dear relative came to me via Facebook messenger, telling me they’d been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and asking for my advice. They told me that they were scared of their diagnosis and they hoped I’d be able to understand.

Here is what I said to them, over an hours-long text conversation:

Oh, [name], I totally understand being scared of a diagnosis, especially one for a lifelong condition that can be dangerous under some circumstances. The best thing you can do to reduce your fear is to educate yourself on what this diagnosis really means.

What a bipolar diagnosis really means is different for everyone. But what it means to me is that I have an extra layer of work on top of my normal affairs to manage my moods.

I have to make sure I take my meds on time twice a day, monitor my moods so that I’m sure that the meds are working, monitor my actions to make sure they’re not wildly off base and within the range of societal norms, get enough sleep (this is especially important to avoid manic episodes), monitor my spending, avoid alcohol, and so on and so forth.

It sounds like a lot, and it is, but it’s just part and parcel with living with a mental illness. If I don’t put the work in, I become miserable and a danger to myself and others. Thankfully, the work gets easier as you get used to it.

I also used to think a bipolar diagnosis made me fragile. And to a certain extent, that’s true. There’s certain things I can’t do that other people can, like live without medication and drink and stay up all night.

But fragile is the wrong impression; if you go through life thinking you’re fragile, you’ll damage your confidence and make yourself believe you’re made of glass.

So while fragile is the wrong word, try delicate instead. With bipolar disorder, you have a delicate constitutional makeup. You need to be careful with yourself and treat yourself right. If you don’t, you won’t thrive or even survive well, and that’s no way to live a life.

I highly recommend educating yourself on what you have to do to treat yourself right. That’s the first step, and will help resolve your fears. Once you’re armed with knowledge about what the diagnosis really means to you and what you need to do to manage it, then you’ll be able to tackle it head on.

Do you have meds? Do they work? I would highly recommend finding a therapist that you feel comfortable with who can work with you through your diagnosis. A psychiatrist doesn’t have to be warm and friendly to know their stuff, but a therapist should be someone you feel you can talk to and basically share your struggles, challenges, and triumphs.

If you’re not on meds yet, go back to the psychiatrist and ask for some, especially a mood stabilizer to avoid endangering  yourself or others with manic episodes.

Finding a med cocktail that actually works will take some time and a lot of wading through side effects, so don’t give up! You can find something that works for you, and even if your specific diagnosis is medication resistant, there are other things you can try like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), but that’s mostly good for depressive episodes.

Still, there are therapies out there and you can treat this disease with a combination of medication, psychotherapy, and self-care. 

But you do have to respect that this is a disease. It’s a brain disease, sure, but it’s a real and valid threat to your happiness and the happiness of those around you.

Give the disorder the respect it deserves and don’t underestimate how quickly things can fall apart. It’s a balancing act, but the more scaffolding you have in place, the less difficult it will be to balance your life.

What I mean by scaffolding is medication, a treatment team, therapy, and good habits like getting enough sleep every night. Once you have these things in place, you will find it easier to keep your mood on an even keel.

As someone who has been managing my bipolar disorder for years, I’ve realized that my brain lies to me. It does not have my best interests at heart.

I have intrusive thoughts that tell me to hurt myself, and I have to acknowledge that I had the thought and let it go. I often say to myself, “well, that was a thought! How interesting!”

And in this way I can look at those sorts of thoughts with a neutral mindset, as if I’m some sort of outside observer just looking at my brain and all its idiosyncrasies. 

I know it’s hard to believe right now, but trust me: you are a human being with inherent value. Do you think your friends deserve pain? Treat yourself as a friend. That’s what you deserve, not this brain that lies to you.

You’ve got a lot of work ahead of you. But I am confident you can manage this illness and I’ll be here for you, too.


Like most people facing a bipolar diagnosis, my relative was scared and stressed. They didn’t know where to turn to start educating themselves about their diagnosis.

But there are resources out there. My blog, The Bipolar Parent, for one, as well as the National Institutes of Mental Health website. WebMD is good for an overview of the disorder, and your doctors are excellent touchstones for you who can provide even more resources.

If you can find someone in your life who has successfully managed their bipolar disorder for years, like I have, even better.

If you’re facing a bipolar disorder diagnosis, there is hope for you to have a successful, well-adjusted life. Make no mistake, it’ll take work, and sometimes there will be situations outside your control, but that work gets easier with time.

My relative asked me to check in on them periodically and offer them advice, which I plan to do. I’ve already set a repeating event in my calendar with a notification on my phone to remind me to do so.

Like I said, I’ll be here for them–and I’m here for you, too.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

Top Tips for Surviving the Holidays with Bipolar Disorder

Photo by Valentin Petkov on Unsplash

So much baking, so much fuss, so much shopping to nonplus. Cute rhymes aside, surviving the holidays with bipolar disorder is no joke. But dealing with a mental illness doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy the season.

Bipolar disorder complicates the holidays for several reasons. December is a month where we’re expected to spend a ton of money, socialize in potentially uncomfortable situations (and do this a lot), and party until all hours of the night, sometimes with alcohol involved.

But with proper planning and vigilance, you can enjoy the holiday season.

Tip #1: Know Your Limits with Alcohol

Yes, I know. Everyone else is drinking, and you want to partake. But you have to know your limits. If you’re on medication for bipolar disorder, be they antidepressants, antipsychotics, or anti-anxiety meds, drinking alcohol is a terrible idea in general. Not only will the meds stop working as well and possibly hurt you, alcohol is a proven trigger for bipolar mood episodes, too.

You are not immune to destabilizing. If you drink and you lose control, you may as well be sending all your hard work to avoid a relapse down the drain.

This is easier said than done, especially for alcoholics or former alcoholics, of which there are a startling high number that includes people with bipolar disorder. But try to find a substitute that you can rely on and stock up at home so you can bring it to parties. Soda works for some people, or tea, or seltzer water.

I know this is hard, and I might lose readers by saying that you have to limit drinks as my first tip. But this is so important because I want you to be happy and healthy, and if you’re looking to survive the holidays with bipolar disorder, know your limits.

Tip #2: Try Not to Obsess Over Gifts

Years ago, before I had my bipolar disorder under control, I would go all out for the holidays. Growing up, my family never celebrated Christmas, so when I married into a family with holiday traditions, I was ecstatic.

One of my manifestations of my hypomania is crafting. I used to sew plushies, paint gifts, make hats, cross-stitch video game characters and QR codes for the people I affectionately call nerds (including myself!), and basically stress myself out, further exacerbating my mania.

I’d spend hundreds of dollars and dozens of hours on these gifts, and because I was manic and in a hurry to make gifts for everyone, I would rush these projects and they never turned out well. Because of the shoddy quality, these gifts were the least appreciated and almost never taken home from our communal meeting place.

I later realized that I was crafting gifts for me, and not because they would be thoughtful presents for those around me. This was a painful realization to come to, but it had to be done in order for me to stop inflicting these thoughtless gifts on others.

Now I buy my gifts online and have them sent to people’s homes already wrapped. It’s less personal, but sometimes a less personal touch is good. And the gifts are much more appreciated than my rushed, botched projects I made in a manic frenzy.

Don’t be like me. I’m not saying don’t handmake any gifts. You can absolutely choose to make a few, select gifts, be it either via crafting or baking or wherever your skills lie. But do limit yourself to projects you can do well and have the time to do, and give them to people who will appreciate them.

You also have my permission to give gifts that you think aren’t perfect for the recipient, even though you don’t need me saying so. (Sometimes that helps me, when my friends give me “permission” to do self-care.) Putting thought into each gift is a good thing, but try not to obsess too much over which ones you give.

Protect your mental health. Don’t go manic just because you want every gift to be perfect.

Tip #3: Do Practice Self-Care

Self-care isn’t limited to bubble baths and painting your nails, though those can be important ways to destress if they work for you.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental health. That’s it. It’s easier said than done, because of a lot of us (myself included) believe we don’t deserve to take time to fill our tanks.

But if we don’t, and we’re running on empty, that’s a surefire recipe for a depressive crash in the new year. I know I’ve suffered many Januarys feeling terrible because I overextended myself during the holidays and didn’t protect myself.

So a brief run-down of self-care during the holidays:

  • Prioritize sleep. If you do any of these tips, prioritize sleep. Sleep is crucial for maintaining your stable mood; there’s no better way to send a person with bipolar disorder spinning off into mania than not getting enough sleep. I know very well the awfulness that follows from not getting enough sleep, mostly from staying up working on rushed crafting projects.
  • Don’t overextend yourself socially. You do not have to attend every party, especially not huge ones where you may be uncomfortable. I know the extroverts among us (myself included!) love being surrounded by people. We get our energy from talking and enjoying the presence of others. But sometimes, we get too much energy, and end up manic. I often have. The same goes for introverts; don’t wear yourself out with people and have nothing left to give to yourself. Be selective about your time.
  • “Eat food. Not too much. And mostly plants.” -Michael Pollan Overeating during the holidays is a terrible idea. We all do it, especially Americans, with our Thanksgiving feasts. But do try to avoid fatty foods; a 2015 study published in The Journal of Psychiatric Research showed that certain fatty foods increased dysfunction in bipolar disorder. And weight gain is a common problem with bipolar disorder, and if you’re on medication it’s even easier to gain weight and harder to take it off. Indulge in one cookie per gathering. You can make a game of which cookie you’ll take!

Conclusion

If you have bipolar disorder, you can still enjoy the holiday season. I know this list seems like a whole lot of “don’t do this, don’t do that.”

But think of it this way: you deserve to be healthy. You deserve to protect yourself and your hard-won stability. You don’t deserve to suffer from a manic spiral or a pit of depression.

Treat yourself in the way you deserve to be treated. Don’t drink to excess (or at all, if you can manage), try not to obsess over gifts, and practice self-care. With these tools in your belt, you can survive and even thrive this holiday season.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

My Top 8 Personal Needs During a Bipolar Depressive Episode

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Depression is a needy disease.

The illness takes and takes and takes from you and your loved ones. But if you can find out what you need when you’re depressed and meet those needs, then you may feel a bit better and come out of the slump faster.

Like most people suffering from depression, when I’m dealing with a bipolar depressive episode, I have quite a few personal needs. I don’t feel selfish for having these needs or getting them met; that wastes time and the needs themselves aren’t selfish, they just exist.

Some of the time, I can meet these needs myself. But during depressive episodes, I often get overwhelmed and must call in my supporters (my friends and family) or my treatment team (a therapist and psychiatrist).

As of this writing, I am a stable–and happy!–woman with bipolar who has managed my mental illness for 13 years. So I am willing and able to share tips with you.

From reading my personal list of needs and learning how I meet them, you, too, can learn how to craft a list of needs of your own and figure out whether you can meet those needs yourself or whether it’s time to call in for help.

Here are my top 7 personal needs during a bipolar depressive episode, in descending order of importance:

8. Food

Food is a basic human need. We all need food to function. But oftentimes, when I’m depressed, I forget to eat or worse, I am too apathetic to make myself food or even order pizza.

Sometimes, all I need is a reminder to make food and eat. I have daily alarms set at 4:15pm, 4:30pm, and 5:30pm to remind me to check the mail and start mentally preparing for dinner, prepare dinner, and serve and eat dinner with my family. Sometimes, these alarms are all I need to force myself into making dinner.

Other times, I need someone to pick up dinner for me and my children, and that task usually falls to my husband after he’s finished with his workday. I try not to rely on him too much because eating out is expensive and he, too, is tired, but there’s just some days I absolutely cannot make dinner because the lure of my bed is too great.

So food, and the making and eating of food, is one of my very important personal needs, despite being at the bottom of the list.

7. People

Like most people who are depressed, when I’m in the pit of despair I tend to isolate myself. I withdraw from the world because interacting with people takes too much time, energy, and mental headspace, and I just… I can’t. I can’t do it.

But I am a social creature, as all humans are, and my need for people is especially important because I am an extrovert who sinks further into depression if I don’t talk with people on at least a daily basis.

Often, talking with my online friends is enough to get me through the day, but I frequently speak in person to my children and husband as well. Sometimes the kids are draining rather than energizing, because they need a lot from me in turn, but I do like teaching them about crucial topics like consent.

6. Time to Myself to Process

On the flip side of needing people, I also need time to myself to process my emotions. When I’m enduring a depressive episode, I frequently suffer from a running commentary in my head saying I’m worthless and no one will ever love me.

So I often need a break from raising children and dealing with hungry spouses to counter those thoughts.

One of the ways I do so is to accomplish something small, like taking a shower. Which leads into my next need…

5. Smaller To-Do List

When I’m stable–or especially when I’m hypomanic–I run around like a chicken with my head cut off, accomplishing things. My to-do list easily has 10-12 items on it, almost all of which I at least try to cross off.

For me, a to-do list is a set of expectations. I expect to get a certain amount done in a day, and I don’t write down the big rocks of my day like meals or studying. I also don’t write down the innumerable little tasks I perform to make sure my children–13-years-old and 4-years-old–are happy, healthy, and sane.

I have a problem with to-do lists, however. I have deep-seated issues with equating being productive and useful with my value as a person. If I don’t get enough done, I often feel I’m worthless and unlovable. I’ve been trying to conquer these issues, but sometimes my brain is cruel to me and catches me flatfooted, and that’s especially true during my depressive episodes.

So when I’m depressed, I force myself to set lower expectations for myself. I absolutely cannot get done my standard set of things that I can when I’m stable. I give myself grace and a smaller to-do list.

And the items on this list are smaller things as well. When I’m truly in the depths of depression and cannot accomplish anything, I write down only things like, “eat breakfast,” “brush teeth,” and “take a shower.” If I get all three of those things done, I count that a win for the day.

For a post on how depression interferes with getting things done, click here.

4. Clean Environment

Clutter and depression are intrinsically linked. Having a dirty or cluttered environment around you worsens depression because every object out of place is a decision you have to make: put the item away or ignore it.

And the more often you make these choices, those use up your bank of decision making power for the day, leading to something called decision fatigue.

When I’m depressed, putting things away feels like a Herculean effort. I’ve existed for weeks with dirty diapers strewn across the living room floor because picking them up and taking them to the trash was one too many steps.

Most of the time, I can force myself to put the dishes in the dishwasher and make sure things are where they’re supposed to be–and in the case of the diapers, that’s the trash.

But sometimes, I’m so far gone into depression that I cannot pick things up. Then I need to call in my friends and family for help–or simply live with the mess, which worsens the depression.

Fortunately for me, my family has been willing to help me conquer the mess. When pregnant and suffering a depressive episode, my mother and sister decluttered my absolutely packed closet and set up a nursery, to which I am eternally grateful.

3. Clean Body

Concurrent with a clean environment is a clean body. One of my early symptoms of depression–that actually worsens the slump–is not taking the time to shower.

When I’m suffering a depressive episode, showering takes far too many steps: walk into the bathroom, shut the door, strip, step into the shower, turn it on, stand under the spray… And so on and so on. I get overwhelmed looking at the big picture because I deal with the inability to break tasks down into smaller pieces. “Shower” is one huge task with too many steps in my head.

But if I don’t keep up with my hygiene, that’s just asking for problems. Like most people, when I’m feeling sweaty and grimy, I don’t feel good mentally.

Most of the time, as with a lot of the items on this list, I can force myself to shower. But there was a time when I was in college when I just couldn’t. My mom drove two hours from her home to my university apartment and washed my hair–and then took me to a crisis center because, yeah, I was that bad off.

There’s no shame in asking for someone’s help with showering. Whether you need someone to remind or encourage you to do so or you need someone you trust like a friend or family member to wash your hair, get the help you need.

Having a clean body is worth it because hygiene may make you feel better.

2. Reason to Get out of Bed

When I’m depressed, I absolutely need a reason to get out of bed. If you’ve read the rest of the list, I’ve touched on a few of those:

  • I need to accomplish things to feel useful
  • I need a clean environment–and so does my family
  • And I need to practice self-love by showering.

But my main reason for me to get out of bed is this: my family needs me. I have two children and a husband that I can’t let down. They need me to make dinner, chat with them about their day, and ensure that their own emotional health is protected.

If you have someone or something relying on you, you can use that as a reason to get out of bed. Even an animal, like a cat, that requires you to clean their litter box or feed them, can be enough. Sometimes even a plant that you need to water on a daily basis can be enough.

These are all external motivations. But when I’m depressed, I have absolutely no internal motivation. It just gets sucked into a black hole along with my self-worth. But external motivations work for me. They may work for you, too.

Once you find your own reason to get out of bed, don’t allow yourself to lie down again. I understand all too well the allure of the mattress. Just this morning, I laid back down after turning off my alarm and played on my phone, and before I knew it, 30 minutes had passed with me doing nothing but mindless scrolling. And I’m not even depressed!

So find your reason. You won’t regret it.

1. Grace and Understanding

Above all, when I’m suffering from a depressive episode, I require grace and understanding.

I need people to at least try to understand that I’m incapacitated. That my to-do-list is smaller, that I need help making food or a clean environment, that I desperately need encouragement to shower.

Fortunately, over the years, I have surrounded myself with people who understand all of that.

Building up relationships with people takes a long, long time, and I know you’re not in the mood to do so while depressed. But it’s so important to at least try to reach out to people who might understand what you’re going through, and ask for grace from your existing supporters.

For a post on

Finding people who just “get” your depression is a valuable blessing. They can give you advice and support in a myriad of ways.

Try. You don’t have anything to lose and everything to gain.

Conclusion

You can get your needs met while you’re in the midst of depression. You just need to know what they are so you can communicate them.

Now that you’ve read through my list of my top 8 needs while I’m suffering from a depressive episode, I encourage you to make your own list. Share it with your supporters and open up a conversation with them so you can see about getting those needs met.

You’re not alone in this. People want to help you. You can get your needs met.

And please, if you find yourself in crisis, visit this post for domestic crisis numbers for the U.S. or this post for international crisis numbers.

I wish you well.

Related Posts:

12 Frugal, Easy Self-care Ideas to Treat Depression from The Bipolar Parent

Photo by Tina Dawson on Unsplash

A lot of people think self-care is limited to bubble baths and nail-painting. But that’s just not the case.

Self-care is taking responsibility for your physical and mental wellbeing. That’s it. Through treating myself to some self-care on a daily basis (as well as engaging in therapy and taking my medication), I’ve been able to manage my bipolar disorder for the past several years. I am a stable–and happy!–woman with mental illness, so I am more than willing to share my favorite self-care strategies with you.

Here are 12 frugal, easy self-care ideas to help you treat your depression. Feel free to try as few or as many ideas on the list as you’re comfortable with.

Take a break from social media.

Social media is all-consuming. Perusing the curated feeds of your friends and family can make you think their lives are perfect and yours lacks something in comparison. Take a thirty-minute to an hour break from social media today.

Not everyone can be like me, who checks my Facebook account only once in a blue moon. I am, however, addicted to chatting on Discord, a chat service, so I do force myself to take breaks from the servers I’m a moderator of once in a while so I can refresh myself rather than being drained by constant pings. It’s a very similar strategy to putting my phone on DND, but it’s specifically tailored to Discord.

Go to your library’s website and put some books on hold.

Shopping for books gives a lot of people a thrill but can be expensive. Try perusing your local library’s website and place a few books on hold to pick up later.

I don’t read nearly as often as I’d like, but when I do read, I usually read fanfiction. The fanfic experience can be tailored to you; on archiveofourown.org, you can filter what fanfiction you’re looking for through tags.

You can do a similar search for books from your library’s website, looking up keywords and authors you’re interested in. If you

Write a short story.

Google the phrase “writing prompts” and see what you can come up with from the third prompt from the first result.

One of the best self-care strategies I ever practiced was allowing myself to write fanfiction. By disregarding the stigma and treating the activity as valuable, I was able to break through a 10-year writing dry spell where I wrote nothing at all. In a year’s time, I wrote over 500,000 words and improved my writing by leaps and bounds.

Creative writing is my special way to relax. Writing fiction, specifically fanfiction allows me to express my emotions through the characters’ actions and unpack facets of my own life, like how I starved when I was a child. I highly, highly recommend writing a story of your own.

Read one chapter of a book.

Reading is one of the best frugal activities out there. It engages your brain and promotes peace. Try reading one chapter of one of your favorite books.

Like I said earlier, I haven’t read a book in a while, but when I want to disengage after a long day and engage my brain in a different way, I read a fanfic from one of my favorite fandoms. I have specific authors that I follow, and I am good friends with some of them.

Reading is one way for you to “turn off” your working brain and “turn on” your relaxed brain.

Do something imperfectly.

The perfect is the enemy of the good, and perfectionism is a killer. Give yourself permission to do something imperfectly, like coloring outside the lines on a coloring sheet.

When I started writing fanfic, I allowed myself not to obsess over whether I was using commas correctly. This small change opened the floodgates of my writing, and I wrote over 500,000 words in a year. Earlier, when I was driven to create a “perfect” piece, that killed my enthusiasm for writing entirely.

Allow yourself to try something doing something new or old imperfectly. Let go of the bad habit of perfectionism in a small, unique way.

Buy a pet plant.

Gardening is a fun activity with numerous health benefits. Caring for something small other than yourself can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Studies have shown that nurturing a plant promotes good feelings. Philodendrons are beautiful, green plants with heart-shaped leaves that are easy to keep alive. Head to the nursery section of your local grocery story and purchase a philodendron or other easy pet plant.

My front yard is full of plants that my mother put in the ground for me. I love seeing the delicate, blue flowers of my vinca plants blooming. Watching my large-leafed, heart-shaped hostas grow bigger and bigger is a treat. And when the corkscrew willow tree’s leaves unfurl for spring, it’s one of the best markers of the year.

Drink a cup of tea or coffee.

Especially on cold days, a cup of tea or coffee can be just what the doctor ordered. The caffeine kick can help you get through your day but even if you drink decaffeinated beverages, the warmth from the drinks can help soothe you.

When I read this in my post, I immediately stood up to go make tea for myself and my family. My favorite tea is Harvey & Son’s Hot Cinnamon Spice, a bracing black tea with a rich flavor of orange and cloves. Drinking a cup of tea is one of my favorite ways to warm up.

Practice gratitude.

If you concentrate on what you have and how grateful you are to have it, then you are less likely to ruminate on negative things. Practice gratitude by writing down five things you’re thankful for.

When I find myself getting spinning in circles because of how busy I am, I like to stop and count my blessings. I say a prayer to God thanking him for the big things–my health, my food, and my shelter–and then try to come up with something specific. This helps me focus on what I have rather than what I don’t have, preventing FOMO: the Fear of Missing Out.

Cross something off your to-do list.

If you have the energy, tackle something that you’ve been meaning to get done for a while. But before you do so, visualize how good it will feel to have the item done. Picture yourself having done the task, and how much more free you feel.

I love crossing items off my to-do list. One of the best ways for me to soothe myself is to pull up my sleeves and get something done, like writing this post.

Depression, unfortunately, makes getting even the smallest task done difficult. But do try. Even getting a small item done will give you a sense of accomplishment and that may be enough to get through the rest of your day.

Declutter the nearest surface to you.

If you’re stuck in bed, then spend five to ten minutes clearing off and dusting your nightstand. You don’t have to spend an hour or two decluttering to make progress. Decluttering the nearest surface to you will give you a clear space to look at and a feeling of satisfaction.

When I’m depressed, I tend to let the environment around me fall into squalor. Things surround me: pizza boxes, dirty diapers, moldy dishes–you name it. It’s not good. So when I’m deep in the depths, I try to tackle the mess one step at a time.

I usually start with the dishes, clearing off the counters, and then take a break. That sense of accomplishment enables me to move on to the next step: picking up the floor, and so on and so on.

Do a full-body check-in.

Starting with your toes and progressing upward to your shins, thighs, hips, stomach, etc., ask yourself how each of your body parts feel. Are you cramping or sore anywhere? Are you thirsty? Hungry? Address those issues. Get a drink if you’re thirsty. Eat something if you’re hungry. And stretch.

A full-body check in works in tandem for me with a meditation exercise: imagine the sun creeping up your body from your toes, spilling over your legs, warming up your hips, filling your belly, and suffusing your chest.

If I do this exercise after a full-body check-in and then address all the needs I’ve found in my body, that’s one of the best ways for me to perform physical self-care.

Take 3 deep breaths.

Breathing deeply is one of the best ways to center yourself. Try the box breathing method: Take seven seconds to breathe in through your nose, hold for six seconds, and breathe out for eight seconds through your mouth. This will help you feel calmer and detoxify your body.

I often have trouble remembering to breathe when I need to, instead getting more and more hyped up until I’m hyperventilating. When I do remember to take a breath (or when a dear friend reminds me to), I can calm myself down and take a moment to re-center myself.

Conclusion

So those are The Bipolar Parent’s easy, frugal, must-try self-care ideas for depression!

Self-care is not an indulgence. It’s caring for yourself in a way that puts your health front and center. And if you engage in self-care on a weekly or even daily basis, you’ll start to build up a reservoir of good feelings.

Feel free to try as many of these strategies as you feel like trying. There’s no pressure here.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related Posts:

National Recovery Month – A Guide to Depression Recovery Through Self-Care, part 2

Photo by Anthony Tran on Unsplash

As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.

Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.

Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some emotional self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.

Emotional Self-care

Emotional self-care involves increasing your ability to handle strong, uncomfortable emotions such as rage, nervousness, or despair. Emotional self-care practices involve your expression of your emotions on a regular basis.

One way to tell if you’re effectively practicing emotional self-care is if you feel recharged at the end of an activity rather than drained. Emotions, especially negative emotions, can be draining, but if you’ve properly processed them, you’ll be much better off.

Here’s a few ways to practice emotional self-care.

Say No

Setting boundaries is all about learning to protect your energy from others. If you are stretched too thin for others, you won’t have any time for yourself and your own self-care, which means you’ll be drained and possibly irritable.

I know that when I’m overstretched (which often happens before I realize it), I tend to snap at people. Instead of letting myself get to that point, I need to do is set boundaries and encourage other people to do the same.

One good way for you to cut down on your obligations is to say “no”. It’s a small but powerful word, and I know for a fact that it’s one of the hardest ones to say for most people.

But try it. Say “no” to at least one person asking you to take on more obligations. You need to draw shield around yourself and not take on anymore things, especially when trying to recover from depression.

I personally don’t like saying no and/or delegating tasks to others, but I’ve always found myself better off when I do. It’s been a long road for me to get to a place where I am confident enough to say no, but a journey begins with a single step.

You can take that first step today.

Call Others For Help When You Feel Overwhelmed

The corollary to saying no is calling for help when you feel overwhelmed. If you find that you really have stretched yourself too thin, you may have to call in people to help you.

Depression is overwhelming. There’s absolutely no shame in calling for help. Whether it’s visiting a therapist to process your day or asking friends to take care of your children so you can take a shower (physical self-care!), you can call someone.

When I’ve been depressed in the past, my greatest supporter has been my husband. He’s taken care of our children, listened patiently to me express my feelings (see the next section), and has given me great advice.

I couldn’t have recovered from my depression as quickly without his stalwart support. If you have a valued supporter, don’t take them for granted, but also don’t worry about calling them for help when you need them to step up.

Your friends want to help you. I know one of the biggest features of depression is the isolation. When we’re depressed, we withdraw from people and tear down our relationships, sometimes because we don’t think they’ll help, but also sometimes because we think we don’t deserve their help.

You deserve the love and help of your friends. Call one today.

And if you’re currently in crisis and believe you’re truly friendless, please, please Google “crisis center [my town],” so you can get the help you need. For a list of crisis lines in the U.S., click here. For a list of international crisis lines, click here.

Express Your Feelings

Anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a wise man. Bottling your feelings helps no one; if you can’t express your feelings properly, you cannot nurture your emotional health.

If you’re not honest with people when you don’t like something, you’re setting them up to fail. What? How does that make sense? It’s simple, really.

People aren’t mind readers. But how can they be good to you if you don’t tell them what your preferences are? If you don’t tell people if you’re angry or even annoyed, they can’t respond in a proper way and they’ll continue responding in the way they feel is right based on limited information, possibly angering you or annoying you further.

If you don’t tell people the truth about what you like or what your preferences are, and if you just go along with what they say or don’t say no to them about something that feels violating to you, you are setting them up to fail.

That doesn’t lead to a productive conversation or to someone knowing the real you. This is not your fault, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can express your feelings.

One of the best ways to express your feelings to others is to use “I” statements. When you say, “you made me feel…” that shifts blame onto the other person and puts them on the defensive. Plus, framing the sentence that way doesn’t allow you to take responsibility for your own feelings. Try “I feel,” instead.

You can start expressing your feelings in small ways. Keep a personal journal examining your emotions. Write or draw something creative. And try to tell people upfront when you don’t like something, starting small, like when someone calls you by the wrong name.

Over many years of therapy, I’ve learned to express myself in a variety of different ways. I am a writer, so I frequently write fiction that explores my own emotions through the characters and their actions. I write the world I want to see.

I’ve also learned that speaking directly to someone about a problem is worlds better than going behind their back and venting to a friend. I first heard that concept from a lesson in church, but it was only after personal experience where a relationship blew up in my face because I didn’t express my feelings properly that I took action on the idea.

You can express your feelings today. And if you need help, there’s no shame in calling in the professionals. A therapist can help you identify and untangle your emotions and teach you ways to express them in healthy ways.

For a post on how to start seeing a therapist, click here.

Conclusion

Like physical self-care, emotional self-care is an absolute necessity. Without the building blocks of caring for your own emotions, recovering from depression will be an uphill battle–even more than it already is.

You don’t have to be a professional at self-care to recover. You can start small. Say no and set boundaries, call in people to help if you’re overwhelmed, and learn to express your feelings. These are the steps you can take to nurture your emotional health.

I’ve learned how to say no, call for aid, and express my feelings not only through talk therapy, but also through trial and error. I’ve accidentally hurt people and flagellated myself with self-recrimination, stalling my progress upwards.

Don’t be like me: care for yourself. Practice emotional self-care today.

I wish you well.

See part 1, the guide to depression recovery through physical self-care, here.

Related Posts:

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress While Stuck at Home Due to Coronavirus

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

Stress. Everyone has it.

Stress is a normal physiological response to something that upsets your equilibrium, like a threat or a challenge. It’s your body’s ability to protect you.

Sometimes stress can be good for you (it’s called eustress), motivating you to meet deadlines at work and exercise (which is itself another form of good stress). Good stress is short-lived and infrequent, and leaves you better off than you were before you encountered the stressful time.

But stress can sometimes be bad for you, especially if you’re not managing it well. Bad stress lasts a long time, happens frequently, and leaves you worse off. This kind of stress collects and collects, piling on to your brain.

Since 1992, April has been Stress Awareness Month. Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), a non-profit health education organization, Stress Awareness Month encourages people to educate themselves about the dangers of bad stress, learn coping skills, and recognize prevalent stress myths.

During self-quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic, everyone is feeling significant amounts of stress, mostly bad. We don’t know when the need to self-quarantine will end, and we don’t know if we will catch the coronavirus ourselves. Many of our friends and family may already be infected.

We’re also worried about our financial futures. We may have to work at home. Millions of Americans have been laid off. Our kids’ schools have closed, and no one knows when they will open–or even if they’ll open for the rest of the academic year.

All this uncertainty adds up to a stressful time for everyone.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month with these 7 frugal, proven ways to destress while you’re stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Breathe Deep

Taking breaths doesn’t sound like it could help as much as it does. Inhaling expands your chest and shoulders, releasing tension. Plus, fresh oxygen improves your brain’s ability to remember things, alleviates stress, and keeps cells healthy.

Try this exercise, given to me by my therapist over eight years ago:

    1. Close your eyes, if you feel safe enough to do so.
    2. Inhale deeply through your nose, preferably into your abdomen, while counting to 3.
    3. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
    4. Exhale, releasing the air from your mouth over a period of at least 3 seconds.

This rarely fails to relax me.

2. Exercise

Exercise can help you manage your stress in a low-cost, high-impact way. Studies show that exercise can improve your mood. A simple, 20-minute jog around your neighborhood, which releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, can improve your mood for a whopping twelve hours.

You don’t have anything to lose by working out. Try to get some exercise today, preferably outdoors in the sunlight. Anything that gets your heart rate up—jogging, boxing, yoga—is an excellent way to manage your stress levels.

3. Eat a Small, Healthy Snack

When people are stressed, they sometimes turn to food for comfort. Like exercise, food is one easy way to force the brain to release feel-good chemicals. And nothing is more stressful to the brain than starving it.

But you don’t have to make stress eating a bad thing. Even eating a small, healthy snack is a scientifically-backed way to destress.

Try half an avocado, or a stick of string cheese, or a handful of almonds. You want a snack that is full of protein or heart-healthy fats.

The way you eat your snack is also important. Take your food somewhere distraction-free. Sit down with your feet shoulder-width apart. Breathe deeply (tip #1), and focus on your food. Feel the texture of your food on your tongue.

Try to divorce judgment from eating. This is a snack which is good for you and will help you destress.

4. Get Enough Quality Sleep

Sleep is crucial for you to function on even a basic level, but even more so if you have mental illness like bipolar disorder. Getting enough sleep may help prevent manic episodes and helps regulate depressive episodes.

If you don’t get enough sleep, your brain will hold onto your stress. Quality, restful sleep starts in the bedroom. Make sure you have a dark, quiet environment to catch some Zs.

For a post on how to handle insomnia and other sleep disturbances while you have bipolar disorder, click here.

5. Detox from Your Smartphone

A study done by British researchers showed a clear link between rising stress levels and compulsively checking emails and social media on a smartphone.

Unplug from your electronic devices, and marvel at how much your stress dissipates after only an hour.

6. Keep a Gratitude Journal

Appreciating what you have rather than focusing on what you don’t has been proven to reduce stress, and improve physical and mental well-being.

Writing an entry in a gratitude journal is a low-cost way to feel better about the world and your place in it.

7. Do a Full-Body Check In

If you’re feeling stressed, your body will show signs of the negative feelings. Your shoulders can be tense, your stomach may churn, and your lower back might be sore.

But how you feel physically can also add to stress. It’s a vicious cycle: you feel stressed, which affects your body, which in turn raises your stress level, and so on.

Nip the cycle in the bud. Check in with your body.

Sit or lie down somewhere peaceful. Starting with your toes, mentally examine each body part. Are you sore anywhere? Tense? Hungry? Thirsty? How’s your stomach feeling? How are your shoulders? Do you have enough oxygen in your system (tip #1)?

Examine your needs, and then go solve them. If you’re hungry, eat a small, healthy snack (tip #3). If you’re tired, take a nap (tip #4). Check in with your body, identify issues you might be facing, and practice self-care.

Final Thoughts

Destressing is a form of self-care. Taking the time to relax yourself will have untold benefits for your physical body and mental state. Destressing helps your mood, outlook, and ability to handle future stressful situations.

Celebrate Stress Awareness Month. Destress with one of these practical, scientifically-backed tips today.

I wish you well in your journey.

Related:

7 Frugal, Proven Ways to Destress - CassandraStout.com

What is Bipolar Depression?

My apologies for setting the blog aside for so long without an announcement–and what a post to leave it on! I’ve been grappling with a severe depressive episode which has

Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.
Photo by Manarianz5. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

escalated over the past year, leaving me not wanting to die, but just bereft of desire to participate in life.

Depression is often described as being miserable, down in the dumps, or–my favorite–trapped in a black, sucking hole of apathy. According to the Kübler-Ross model, also known as the five stages of grief, depression is one of the normal responses to a traumatic life event. Clinical or bipolar depression, however, rears its ugly head due to chemical imbalances in the brain, medication, or genes–meaning that it can strike at any time not connected to stress or winter blues. So what are depression’s signs and symptoms, and how are they treated?

Depression’s signs differ from person to person, but largely include a combination of these factors:

  • Persistent feelings of hopelessness
  • Poor concentration
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Isolation
  • Inability to sleep
  • Missed showers, meals
  • Suicidal tendencies

Over the past year I’ve isolated myself and my five-year-old, confining us both to the house due to both anxiety and depression. I’ve only just begun to emerge from the fugue, armed with new medications and new coping strategies, as well as an attempt to shuck off old habits.

Due to the advice of a dear friend, I found that doing things makes me want to do more things. It’s counter-intuitive, but making sure that I do the dishes and pick up the living room every day has worked as the best anti-depressant I’ve ever had. Staying in bed until I have to pick up my kid from kindergarten is a sure-fire way of destroying the rest of the day. Getting up and getting dressed is that first, difficult step, but I am better off when it’s done.

That said, I have to keep moving. How do you stay out of the sucking hole?